AWARDS PRESENTATION / SUNDAY / OCTOBER 8, 2023 / 6:00 PM
Fast Casual Hall of Fame
For more than 20 years, fast casual concepts have been at the forefront of innovation in the restaurant industry, proving to be trendsetters in store design, menu development, customer experience and restaurant technology. That would not be possible, however, without the blood, sweat and tears of the men and women who lead those brands each day.
The Fast Casual Hall of Fame will honor three individuals, who through their vision and leadership, have driven not only the success of their brands, but of the fast casual segment as a whole.
Join us as we recognize this year’s Fast Casual Hall of Fame Honorees!
Laura Rea Dickey | CEO | Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Laura Rea Dickey currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. Laura has been with the brand since 2009 and most recently served as Chief Information Officer before transitioning to CEO in 2017. As CIO, she implemented a new technology infrastructure for the brand bringing parity and integration to data reporting, information security and all digital sales channels.
In her time as CEO, Laura has overseen the expansion of the brand by 28%, opened 15 international locations in 7 countries, and experienced the highest sales day in the brands 81-year history with the past three years being same store sales positive. She has managed the launch of three additional brands, opened a USDA processing plant to ensure the brand’s signature kielbasa artisan sausages are always available to guests and retailers, and optimized the brands menu by 42%.
Laura also held a large hand in creating and publishing the brands second cookbook titled; Behind the BBQ: Recipes, Cocktails & Tall Tales from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit winning Gold in Hermes Creative Awards, as well as Gold in the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards.
Bill Phelps | CEO | Dave’s Hot Chicken
Bill Phelps got his start as a brand marketer at Nestle in the early nineties. Since then, he’s pulled off a franchising hat trick by being involved with the creation of three great brands: Wetzel’s Pretzels, Blaze Pizza, and now Dave’s Hot Chicken.
Bill’s specialty is building and scaling great franchise brands. In 1994, he founded Wetzel’s Pretzel’s with his business partner, Rick Wetzel, and was the CEO of Wetzel’s for 26 years growing it to over 300 locations. Bill is currently the CEO of Dave’s Hot Chicken, which started as a parking lot pop up just five years ago and now has nearly 100 restaurants open, with many more in development. In addition to Wetzel’s and Dave’s, Bill was also one of the founding investors that started Blaze Pizza 10 years ago.
Charles Watson | CEO | Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Charles Watson was named CEO in December 2018. In this role, he is responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and overall franchise performance. He was previously Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s Chief Development Officer since 2016 after serving as VP of Franchise Development since 2010. In these roles, Charles was responsible for all development of the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand.
A veteran hospitality professional, Charles has worked for several hospitality-related companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, US Franchise Systems, Inc. and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. Charles is a graduate of The Hotel School at Cornell University and also holds a Masters of Business Administration from The Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia.
Cherryh Cansler | VP of Events | Networld Media Group
Before joining Networld Media Group as Vice President of Events, Cherryh Cansler spent several years as VP of Editorial managing the company’s nine B2B publications. Throughout her 20-year career as a journalist, she’s written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness news. Her byline has appeared in a plethora of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.
Jason Valentine | Chief Strategy Officer | Botrista Technology
Having worked in the industry for more than 25 years, Jason Valentine has experienced every aspect of the restaurant industry. In the summer of 2022, Jason joined Botrista Technology as Chief Strategy Officer. Most recently, he was the President of Zoup! Eatery and exited after completing a successful acquisition plan. Jason has a deep understanding of the restaurant industry from the perspective of both franchisee and franchisor, and his experiences are now being applied to help brands implement DrinkBots, which enables brands to add craft beverages to their menu without operational complexities. Botrista DrinkBots automate the portioning, dispensing and mixing process using algorithmic dispensing to deliver a fresh and consistently blended drink in under 20 seconds.